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To Fly or Not to Fly: Current Legislation on Gun Sales

16 August 2016

One of the most contentious issues in 2016 has been the question of gun control. The most recent action, a Senate amendment to HR 2578 is being led by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) who proposes a prohibition on gun sales to people on the FBI’s “No Fly List”.

Sen. Collins’s amendment would apply to suspected terrorists who are banned from air travel in the United States and would revoke their right to purchase firearms.

This amendment SA 4858, also known as the “Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act of 2016”, focuses on those who are listed on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database for being known or reasonably suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Individuals in this database can be on the “No Fly List” restricting them from air travel in the United States, or the “Selectee List” which requires them to undergo more questioning and screening.

The main purpose of the bill is to prohibit these suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. “Essentially we believe that if you are too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun,” Collins said.

American citizens and green-card holders can appeal a denial of a firearm sale in the U.S. Court of Appeals to ensure that there is no infringement on due process rights. If the government cannot provide evidence that the person presents a substantial terrorist threat, then the citizen’s Second Amendment right would be returned and the legal fees of the case would be covered.

In addition, the amendment would allow law enforcement to investigate a firearm transaction from a person who had been in the Terrorist Screening Database within the past 5 years.

This lays the foundation for the debate regarding “No Fly, No Buy” legislation: Where is the line between preventing suspected terrorists from acquiring firearms and infringing on a citizen’s constitutional right?

A group of top retired military leaders urged their political leaders to support SA 4858 in order to decrease active shooter terrorism in the country In a letter written to the U.S. Senate.

New Jersey Representative Donald Norcross commented on the terror watch list earlier in the year, saying that "Congress needs to act now to keep guns out of the hands of those who wish to harm America and finally close the terrorist background check loophole".

Recently, current SA 4858 supporters, such as Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH), have reassured the public that the bill will only affect a very small percentage of Americans and that “strong due process protections” will be in place for those who are called into question.

Opponents of this provision, including organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that since no-fly lists do not provide “a physical description, birth date, or other unique identifier that allows airlines to easily determine whether the passenger at the counter is the person on the list”, some people may be erroneously accused of being on the suspected terrorist list simply because they have similar names.

“‘The key thing’s obviously the due process, is always the issue,’ said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) ‘If we can figure out a way to make that work, I’m glad to be able to do it’”.

Those who are against the bill because of possible restrictions on citizens’ Second Amendment and due process rights have proven to match the number of those in favor.

After Sen. Collins’s bill was introduced on June 23, 2016, later on in the day the Senate voted on a motion to table the bill. The vote failed to pass by a count of 46-52, and did not reach the 60 votes required to go through with further action on the bill.


In the end, the Senate could not come to an agreement on the proposed amendment, keeping gun regulation as a hot-topic debate issue among legislators and citizens alike.

Shane Presnall is a graduate of Boston College with a major in Political Science and a current intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

Related tags: blog, gun-control, gun-legislation, No-Fly-List-amendment

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